By Mary Buckner
The Miser (L’Avare) is a play written by Jean Baptiste Poquelin, better known as Molière. I borrowed the play from a classmate named Sam Arnold who is a B.F.A. Theatre Major at Florida State University. I was fortunate enough to see this play live onstage a little less than two months ago when the FSU School of Theatre put on the production at the Conradi Studio Theatre located in Tallahassee, Florida. The Miser was written in 1668 and opened in Paris on September 9, 1668 at the Palais-Royale (Lewis 124). The play takes place in a beautiful house in Paris and tells the story of a greedy, elderly man named Harpagon and the challenge his two children, Cléante and Élise, face when they quickly learn that their father is not going to permit their marriage requests to their beloveds. Harpagon being the selfish Miser he is, only wants companions for his children that will benefit him financially and forbids them marriage with their true loves. The two couples’ (Cléante and Marianne and Élise and Valère) strong passions for each other and determination to get what they desire create an exciting, sneaky, suspenseful, and very interesting plot.
The Miser is a five-act satirical farce that is identified as a comedy. However, many interpretations and presentations of this play have often not been a comedy at all, due to the darkness of the play and its themes of cruelty and loss (Lewis 122). Moliere did indeed include of mixture of emotions in his plays, as he intelligently “analyzed the foibles of French life in twelve penetrating satirical comedies that had the lasting impact of tragedy” (Matthews and Platt 431). In The Miser, Moliere highlighted the comedy of dark situations by using all the trappings of farce such as sight gags, slapstick, pratfalls, puns, and mistaken identities.
Moliere often used the period’s social types to create the characters in his plays, “exposing the follies of the entire society” (Matthews and Platt 431). His work The Miser is one of the best examples of this, seeing as the protagonist of the show, as well as the play’s title, is in itself a social type-a miser. “As his own son’s rival in love, Harpagon is the archetypal archetype, the ultimate “blocking” character and violator of the order of “nature.” (www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides2/Miser.html) Although labeled as the “blocking” character, Harpagon is certainly an active protagonist, as his decisions and choices are what the rest of the characters actions are based off of. I personally identified with Harpagon’s daughter Élise. I didn’t identify with her for the reasons for that we have gone through the same experiences; but as an actress myself, when I was reading the script I kept finding myself wanting to be cast as her. I love her aura and language, as well as the devoted passion she has for her lover, Valère.
One of the play’s biggest themes is that of greed. Harpagon’s greed for gold and money prohibit him from really ever receiving anything back in life. Through out the play’s entirety, Harpagon just constantly wants more and more money, never being satisfied. And although he is very financially wealthy, “All that glisters is not gold”, as quoted in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (2.7.67). More valuable by far are love, friendship, family harmony, and common decency. In all of these things, Harpagon is poverty-stricken. (www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides2/Miser.html). Other themes in the play are the power of true love, loss, and cruelty.
Moliere’s The Miser is a play filled with high, witty, and creative language. The characters speak in a much more sophisticated fashion than I feel most of us in the USA do today. Their jokes and ridicules were even so intelligently written that they come across as proper. However, a lot of the basis for the style of dialogue is due to the time period the play. I didn’t think the language hindered my reading. I think because the language is as heightened as it is, it actually helped bring out certain emotions in me that contemporary way of speech would not have. I will admit sometimes I would have to re-read a couple sentences or two to fully understand what was being said, but it was never anything that caused me great confusion or lack of understanding.
Overall, Molière’s The Miser was one that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is so brilliantly written because one moment within the play could have a certain person laughing, while another could be feeling much sympathy or despite. An example of this would be the very end of the play when Harpagon is alone with his casket of money-one person could find this slightly funny and another could be disgusted that he gave up everything else in his life without thought so he could just have his wealth returned. The Miser not only brings out different emotions in different people, but also brings out various emotions in one person within a very short period of time. I applaud Molière for being creative and intelligent enough to accomplish this. I loved reading the script and I am so fortunate that I got to see this text live on a stage and I highly recommend to any one who can to see Molière’s entertaining play.
Matthews, Roy T., F. Dewitt Platt, and Thomas F.X. Noble. The Western Humanities. abcdef7th Edition. New York: McGraw Hill, 2011. Print
“The Miser: a Study Guide for the Molière Play.” Free Study Guides for Shakespeare abcdefand Other Authors. Web. 15 Apr. 2011. abcdefhttp://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides2/Miser.html
Molière, and David Chambers. The Miser. New York, NY: Dramatists Play Service, abcdef1993.
Lewis, D. B. Wyndham. Molière: The Comic Mask. New York: Coward-McCann, 1959.
Shakespeare, William, Burton Raffel, and Harold Bloom. The Merchant of Venice. abcdefNew Haven: Yale UP, 2006